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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on March 8th, 2016, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 17, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 17, Issue 1

PCPA The Pacific Conservatory Theatre presents a poignantly heartfelt rendition of Tennessee Williams' 'Glass Menagerie'

By JOE PAYNE

Tennessee Williams is something of an institution in American theater, but he wasn’t always so. One of the very first of Williams’ plays to take off was a small-cast memory play loosely based off his life, called The Glass Menagerie, which wrestled with themes of personal confidence and frustration in a fractured family.


FAMILY COMMENTARY
Playwright Tennessee Williams’ own family issues are painted in 'The Glass Menagerie', where frustrated young Tom Wingfield (Matt Koenig) deals with his overbearing mother Amanda (Kitty Balay).
PHOTO COURTESY OF LUIS ESCOBAR/REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO

PCPA’s current production of The Glass Menagerie shows in the Severson Theatre through March 20, and every performance offers a glimmering opportunity for locals to experience a small play with a grand scope of emotive power. The Severson Theatre’s size and configuration is perfect for just such a play, which welcomes the audience into the small apartment of the Wingfield family in 1940s St. Louis.

The Wingfield family is not a paragon of the ideal nuclear family, as Tom Wingfield (Matt Koenig), the narrator and framer of the story explains. His mother, Amanda (Kitty Balay), waxes poetic over her past as a Southern lady with numerous gentleman callers to her son and her daughter, Laura (Sierra Wells). Tom works in a shoe factory to support the family while struggling to meet his aspirations as a writer, leaving the house each night to escape through alcohol and the movie theater.

Sister Laura spends almost all her time in the house, crippled by an intense shyness because of a minor handicap, a limp in her left leg. Her time is divided between scratchy old phonograph records and her collection of tiny glass animal figurines, which her mother calls her “glass menagerie.” Hanging over the family room is the specter of their broken family, a photograph of Tom and Laura’s estranged father, the traveling salesman who abandoned them all.

You might be tricked into thinking the play is really about Tom, seeing as he’s the narrator, and while he is the character who brings us into this world, he isn’t the central focus. The title is helpfully informative in this vein, revealing that the focus is really on Laura and her obsessively closed-off attitude toward the outside world.


FRAIL BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
PCPA professional acting intern Sierra Wells delivers a powerfully poignant performance as 'The Glass Menagerie’s' lead character Laura Wingfield.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LUIS ESCOBAR/REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO

The whole first half sets up the story arch with easy pacing, telling us more and more about each character. The three actors who make up the heart of the story are all flawless. Balay owns her role as the overbearing mother who pushes her children into positions they’re uncomfortable with, never seeing who they are, just who she wants them to be. The character is a teetering emotional rollercoaster, and Balay’s performance takes the audience along for every twist, turn, and bump in the tracks. 

Koenig’s delivery of Tom comes across as stiff at first, but that illustrates how well he’s embodied the character pent up with frustration, seeking escape at every turn. An incredibly tense scene of argument between Tom and Amanda boils over into a shouting match, and here Tom is unreserved as he lashes his mother with barbed words, revealing just how well Koenig paced his character from the opening lines.

And shining like a glass unicorn in the candlelight is Wells as Laura, who manages to say so much about the characters even without words. The incredible pressure the young woman has always felt in hoping to fit in, yet being unable to because of her handicap, is only exasperated by her mother. Wells is able to convey this lifetime of pain in her acquiescing demeanor, trembling words, and pitiable limp.

The second half really pushes Laura into the spotlight, as Tom brings a friend from the factory home for dinner at his mother’s behest. By coincidence, the guest is Jim O’Conner (Jordan Stidham), the only boy Laura ever had feelings for in high school. His presence dismays Laura, but by more collusion from Amanda, the two are isolated in a scene so bittersweet and beautiful it brings smiles and tears with no clear separation between the two.

Catch the show
PCPA The Pacific Conservatory Theatre presents its production of The Glass Menagerie showing through March 20, Wednesdays through Sundays at the Severson Theatre, 800 S. College, Santa Maria. Cost is $29.50 to $39.50. More info: 922-8313 or pcpa.org.

The Severson Theatre is truly PCPA’s most intimate setting and the perfect venue for The Glass Menagerie. The scenic design by Dave Nofsinger includes a towering apartment building backdrop, illustrating how dehumanizing the city can be, while the incredibly intimate interior apartment spills out into the center of the Severson. The lighting design created by Tim Thistleton reveals an evocative palette of moody accentuation. Each scene is also accompanied by beautifully selected jazz music that subtly hints at so much going on.

Roger DeLaurier directed the show, and in a statement released by PCPA, he said, “It’s a gift and privilege just to get to work on this material and have the opportunity to introduce new generations to Tennessee Williams and keep him alive for our audience.”

Anyone familiar with Williams’ work will be delighted by the production, and anyone ignorant—as this writer was before the show—should take DeLaurier’s sentiment seriously, as everyone involved clearly put plenty of heart into the show.

Arts Editor Joe Payne is impressed by small casts that deliver so much. Contact him at jpayne@santamariasun.com.




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